Organized Home

Organized Pantry: A Beginner's Guide to Pantry Pride

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on November 18, 2014

A working pantry? It's the secret weapon of a well-organized kitchen.

A planned reserve of foodstuffs and sundries used in the home, a pantry saves time, money and stress in the kitchen.

Tap the pantry for unexpected meals and reduce trips to the supermarket.

Stock it with frugal finds to lower grocery costs.

Set aside a supply of food and sundries for a rainy day and protect your family against weather emergencies or financial dislocation.

Properly managed, the pantry is an integral part of an organized home. Polish your pantry pride with our best hints and tips.

A Pantry's Not A Place: It's An Attitude

"Oh, I'd love to have a pantry," writes a reader, "but my house doesn't have one!" Sure it does! If there's so much as a spare roll of toilet paper tucked underneath a sink, the household boasts a pantry.

Don't confuse storage space with the reality of the pantry principle. Certainly, it's helpful to have designated cabinet space for pantry goods--but that's not the pantry. Think of the pantry as a reservoir of consumable goods which may be stored in any area of the home.

Tiny urban apartment or spacious rural farmhouse, all homes can include a pantry. That some houses may or may not feature a specific storage area labeled "pantry" is beside the point. A pantry's not a place, it's an attitude!

Eyes On The Goal

What's the goal of establishing and maintaining a pantry? It's two-fold: household convenience and protection against unexpected events. A well-planned pantry means that the household will never run out of commonly used products such as toilet paper.

More important, a pantry is a reserve against hard times. Whether it's job loss, illness, or natural disaster, a pantry ensures that the family will continue to be fed, clean, and comfortable in the face of adversity.

A beginner's pantry focuses on convenience and contains back-up products for each storable item used in the home. The standard is simple: for each open bag, box or carton in the household, the pantry contains a second, back-up product, toothbrushes to tortellini. A good first goal: a three-day supply of food and hygiene supplies adequate to support your family plus one additional person.

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More robust pantries serve additional goals. A mid-range pantry can feed a family for a period of two weeks to a month in case of emergency.

This pantry includes substitutes for fresh foods, such as powdered milk, dried fruits and vegetables, and protein products. A mid-range pantry offers convenience and basic protection.

The most comprehensive home pantries are designed to meet long-term food storage needs. For instance, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) are taught to maintain a one-year supply of food and clothing for their families.

To do so, these premier pantry managers stock versatile foodstuffs with long shelf life, such as whole wheat berries, together with a variety of preserved and dried foods. LDS home managers learn pantry-specific cooking techniques to enhance nutrition and appeal of long-keeping foods.

Inside the Well-Stocked Pantry

Traditional home organization advice often specifies long lists of "recommended pantry items", idea being that you buy them and voila! you've got pantry.

Eighteen months later, you're hauling dusty cans of apricot halves to the Food Bank and wondering what ever possessed you to purchase them in the first place.

Reality check! Each family's pantry will vary according to their own tastes, needs and standard of living. Storage space and financial constraints also affect pantry contents.

For instance, single-income households with young children will build pantries replete with cold cereal, formula, disposable diapers and child-friendly snack foods--all purchased on sale with coupons. Empty-nesters with an active social life and his-and-hers diets will lean toward pickled asparagus, cocktail crackers and tiny jars of caviar for pick-up appetizers and hostess gifts.

Dedicated home bakers include specialty flours, gluten, and dried buttermilk powder in their pantries, while non-cooks rely heavily on microwave entrees and freezer pizza. And just about every family can stockpile basics for kitchen and bath: toilet paper, toothpaste, laundry and dishwasher detergent, disposable diapers and feminine hygiene products, paper napkins and food storage bags.

Where's the best place to discover your family's pantry preferences? A grocery list!

If you buy it, use it, and it can be stored, it's a pantry candidate. Building a pantry from the grocery list is also a powerful antidote to Pantry Mania: the indiscriminate purchase of case lots of canned turkey chili or house-brand soups that no one in the household will eat. Hello, Food Bank!

An expansive view of the pantry principle encompasses more than the traditional dry storage of canned foods and baking staples. Manage your pantry to include freezer storage and a limited amount of refrigerator real estate. Carrots, potatoes, oranges and apples enter the pantry zone when bought on sale and tucked into corners of the vegetable bin, while freezer convenience entrees qualify, too.

Bottom line: build a pantry to suit your family. Whether it's Chef Boy-ar-dee brand ravioli or Wolfgang Puck's upscale line of condensed soups, feature your family's favorites on the pantry shelves.

Organization and Inventory Tips

To work the pantry principle, you've gotta get organized! Maximum pantry power requires that you know what you have, how long it will keep, and how to store it safely. Good organization and inventory techniques will keep your pantry cycling smoothly.

Beginning pantries are relatively simple, and don't require complex organization systems. Create them by buying twice as many of each item as required for weekly use, then storing the extras. Use the last smidge of mayo making today's tuna salad? Retrieve the back-up jar from the pantry, and add "mayo" to the week's shopping list to replace the pantry jar.

Often, the beginner's pantry can be stored side-by-side with opened or in-use items. For example, stack the open box of detergent on top of the pantry box or line up cans of chicken noodle soup front to back on the canned goods shelf. Remember to rotate! Add newly-purchased items to the back of the stack or row; use the front items first.

Even for beginners, a dedicated pantry area can be a big help. Set aside a cabinet or shelf to hold pantry items. Organize them by category, stacking cans and boxes. Flat-bottomed plastic baskets support and contain bags of dried beans, rice, or pasta.

One exception to the "store by category" rule: complete pantry meals. On a section of pantry shelf, assemble all the makings for three to five pantry meals: a family-sized can of clam chowder, extra can of chopped clams, and the box of oyster crackers shelved together make it easy to replace these items after use. Check your "pantry meals" area before shopping day. Empty spaces will remind you to stock up on the clam chowder as needed.

More comprehensive pantries call for a more organized approach. Larger pantries require more storage space, often sited away from the kitchen. In this situation, a written pantry inventory can remind forgetful cooks of the existence and location of pantry items.

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To inventory the pantry, use a clipboard, steno pad, laptop computer or a free printable pantry inventory form from our Household Notebook Forms Library. Record pantry contents, amount and location for easy reference.

Before grocery shopping, check the pantry; will you need to replace any items that have been used? Include them on the weekly shopping list.

Larger pantries may be stored in multiple locations around the house, so pay attention to food storage guidelines as you store. A cool, dry basement room is a good storage environment for root vegetables, apples, or baking staples; canned goods and dried beans can be safely stored in areas with greater temperature variation.

Long-term storage pantries require a thorough approach to selection, storage, maintenance and use of stored foods. Families storing a year's supply of food and water must pay close attention to storage guidelines, safe packaging, and integration of pantry supplies into the daily diet.

Building A Pantry On A Budget

Investing in the pantry principle pays off in savings of time and money, but it does involve an up-front cost. Even a beginner's pantry--a back-up product for each item used in the home, plus ingredients for three to five pantry meals--represents a significant financial outlay.

Try these tips to spread the load:

  • "Tithe" for the pantry: set aside a regular percentage of each week's grocery budget for pantry-building. Even a few dollars a week will start the process of stocking and maintaining pantry reserves.
  • Buy on sale: take advantage of supermarket loss leaders to stock up. Supermarkets routinely offer tuna, tomato sauce, canned soup and canned beans at drop-dead prices to get shoppers in the door. If it's a pantry candidate and it's on sale, buy multiples!
  • Buy in bulk: bulk-buying for the pantry really pays off. Using the pantry "tithe", buy the 25-pound sack of bread flour for $3.89 at the warehouse store, rather than spend $1.39 for the supermarket's five-pound bag. You'll save and stock up at the same time!
Storage tips for small spaces

Even beginner's pantries may have a hard time finding a home in small houses or apartments. Try these storage ideas to tuck away a pantry in the tiniest home:

  • Break the mold: look beyond the kitchen to store pantry items in a small home. Provided that temperature and moisture are not issues, any room in the house is a candidate for pantry storage. Who says cans can't live in the coat closet?
  • Disguise it: integrate pantry goods into the home. For example, stack two large bulk-food storage containers and top with a plywood circle and round tablecloth. Who can tell this attractive end table is really storage space for 50 pounds of flour?
  • Look high and low: make use of storage space under or over furniture. Fill shallow under-bed storage boxes with canned food, labels up, and push them beneath the bed. Similarly, cover cardboard records boxes with gift wrap or fabric, fill them with bags of pasta, beans and rice, and stash them away on top of tall bookcases.
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Declutter 101: How To Cut Clutter At Home

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on November 13, 2014

Here at OrganizedHome.Com, we hear the cry every week: "Help! I'm drowning in clutter and don't know where to begin!"

Whether it's due to poor habits, a packrat spouse, or an advanced case of affluenza, too many home managers struggle under the burden of household clutter.

Clutter can clog the smooth workings of any home, imposing heavy costs on the household.

Each day, time is lost searching for missing keys, phones or permission slips. A cluttered desk plays Hide The Credit Card Statement, yielding up the bill only after late fees are invoked. Belongings lost to clutter must be replaced, with the original surfacing just as soon as the replacement enters the house. Gotcha!

Time to declutter! But when you're peering over piles, mounds and stacks of stuff, it's hard to know where to begin and what to do.

Our complete guide to cutting clutter at home is here to show you where to start, share basic methods to cut clutter, and outline tips to keep clutter from coming back.

Ready? Let's cut the clutter in your organized home!

Halloween Candy Overload? Repurpose, Recycle and Reduce the Trick-or-Treat Haul!

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on October 30, 2014

Halloween night is coming ... and so is the morning of November 1st! For parents, that's the time when the excitement of Trick-or-Treat night gives way to post-Halloween reality: what to do with all that Halloween candy?

Whether they're worried about tooth decay and nutrition, or simply want to avoid the stress of a week of candy-fueled behavior from the little ones, smart parents put strategies in place to handle the Trick-or-Treat haul.

Check out these ideas to repurpose, recycle and reduce the amount of Halloween candy in your organized home from sister site Organized Christmas:

Halloween Candy Overload? Repurpose, Recycle and Reduce the Trick-or-Treat Haul!


Fall Back: Home Preparedness Checklist for Time Change Sunday

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on October 28, 2014

Autumn's here and it's time to Fall Back: Time Change Sunday is on the way!

On the first Sunday in November, we come to the end of Daylight Saving Time in most of the United States. With an extra hour in the day--and winter on the way--it's a good time for a seasonal home preparedness checklist!

As you circle the house, resetting clocks to Standard Time, make time for this short safety checklist. It'll see you into the winter from a safe--and organized--home:

  • Change the clocks, change the batteries. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors save lives ... if they're powered on by a fresh battery. Safety experts recommend replacing smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries twice a year--so celebrate Time Change Sunday with fresh batteries all around.

    Energy savings hint: don't toss the replaced batteries just yet. While they're likely not fully charged, replaced batteries can still do duty in children's toys, media players or electronic devices. Squeeze the last drop of power out of them before you recycle!

  • Replace light bulbs. Long dark winter evenings call for a little illumination! Since you'll have stepladders out to reach smoke detectors and clocks on Time Change Sunday, double up on safety (and energy savings) by checking for light bulbs and fixtures.

    Consider replacing conventional bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent or LCD bulbs. The U.S. Environmental Protection estimates that replacing standard bulbs with energy-efficient ones saves over $30 in electricity costs over their lifetime.

  • Prepare for cold and flu season. Cold weather is here and so are colds and the flu; will your household be prepared if illness strikes?

    Check the medicine cabinet, and assess stocks of over-the-counter medications. Do you have sufficient non-aspirin fever reducers, cough syrup, and decongestants needed to fight colds or flu? Has the thermometer gone missing? Be sure Dr. Mom is ready at the first sign of seasonal illness!

    In the pantry, a stockpile of canned soup and lemon-lime soda can ease cold symptoms and fight off dehydration--and don't forget to stock up on disposable tissues for all those coughs and sneezes!

  • Make or review your family emergency plan. If an emergency strikes, will your family know what to do?

    Review your family's emergency plan, or create one for the first time. Update phone numbers, addresses and contact information, and post an Emergency Information Page near the phone.

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Learn more about what your family needs to know in case of disaster or emergency:

Family Emergency Preparedness from

Are You Ready? A Guide For Citizen Preparedness from

This free printable from makes it easy to develop a plan in case of emergencies:

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Fall Cleaning Chore Checklist

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on September 22, 2014

It's Autumn.

Pumpkins glow in golden fields. Shorter days, crisp mornings signal winter's approach.

Can the holidays be far behind?

Use Autumn's brisk and breezy days to conquer deep-cleaning chores for a clean and comfortable winter home, and wrap up summer's outdoor areas.

Our Fall Cleaning Chore Checklist will help you prepare home and hearth for the coming of winter:

Outside The House

Summer's come and gone--and left its mark on outside the house.

Time to come inside for winter! Outside the house tend to these autumn chores:

  • Clean and store patio furniture, umbrellas, children's summer toys.
  • Touch up paint on trim, railings and decks. Use a wire brush to remove flaking paint; prime bare wood first.
  • Check caulk around windows and doors. Follow manufacturer's recommendations to re-caulk if needed.
  • Inspect external doors and garage doors. Do they close tightly? Install weather-stripping, door thresholds if needed.
  • Wash exterior windows.
  • Drain and store garden hoses. Install insulating covers on exterior spigots. In hard-freeze areas, have sprinkler systems blown free of water.
  • Check gutters and downspouts. Clear of debris if necessary. In cold-weather areas, consider installing heating cable to prevent ice dams.
  • Have chimneys and flues inspected and cleaned if necessary.
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Autumn's the time for "spring cleaning".

Deep clean now to take advantage of good weather, and face the coming of winter and the approaching holidays with a clean and comfortable home.

To learn how to clean efficiently, check out the Clean House Guide for more information on cleaning fast and furious.

  • Focus on public rooms: living room, family room, entryway, guest bath.
  • Clean from top to bottom. Vacuum drapes and window treatments. Clean window sills and window wells. Vacuum baseboards andcorners.
  • Vacuum upholstered furniture, or have professionally cleaned if needed. Move furniture and vacuum beneath and behind it.
  • Wash interior windows.
  • Turn mattresses front-to-back and end-to-end to equalize wear.
  • Launder or clean all bedding: mattress pads, pillows, duvets, blankets, comforters. Tuck the family into a warm and cozy winter bed.
  • Schedule professional carpet cleaning early this month! Warm October afternoons speed carpet drying. Carpet cleaning firms get busy by the end of October, so schedule now for best service.
  • Prepare the kitchen for holiday cooking. Clean and organized kitchen cabinets, paying particular attention to baking supplies, pans and equipment.
  • Clear kitchen counters of all appliances not used within the last week. Clear counters look cleaner--and provide more room for holiday cooking.
  • Pull refrigerator away from the wall, and vacuum the condenser coils. For bottom-mounted coils, use a long, narrow brush to clean coils of dust and debris.
  • Wash light-diffusing bowls from light fixtures.
  • Inspect each appliance. Does it need supplies? Stock up on softener salt now, and avoid staggering over icy sidewalks with heavy bags.
  • Check and empty the central vacuum's collection area.
  • Clean electronic air cleaner elements monthly for most efficient operation. Wash them in an empty dishwasher (consult manual for specific product recommendations).
  • Clean or replace humidifier elements before the heating season begins.
  • Inspect washer hoses for bulges, cracks or splits. Replace them every other year.
  • Check dryer exhaust tube and vent for built-up lint, debris or birds' nests! Make sure the exterior vent door closes tightly when not in use.
  • Schedule fall furnace inspections now. Don't wait for the first cold night!
  • Buy a winter's supply of furnace filters. Change filters monthly for maximum energy savings and indoor comfort. When the right filter is on hand, it's an easy job!
  • Drain sediment from hot water heaters.
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My Child, My Home, My Country: A Marine Mom Speaks

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on September 11, 2014

The following essay, written shortly after the collapse of the Twin Towers, has been this writer's most-read piece of work.

Written on September 14, 2001, it was the cry of my heart as the mother of a United States Marine, a son who had been called to alert in response to the attacks on our country.

Each year on September 11, I re-read this essay. And remember ...

I wasn't terribly happy the day my 17-year-old son told me that he wanted to join the United States Marine Corps.

Ryan was a boy from a professional family with many educational options--and he wanted to join the armed forces?

I signed the forms permitting him to enlist, but I did so with a heavy heart, fearing he was throwing his future away.

When my son graduated from high school, his gown draped with ribbons for academic and music honors, I envied the proud parents all around me. The program in my hands reflected my feelings. Page after page extolled the college choices of hundreds of graduates--yet there wasn't a single acknowledgment of Ryan or those of his classmates who had chosen to enter military service. Joining the Marine Corps seemed a step backward for my intelligent and talented son.

Boy, was I ever wrong!

I began to glimpse the truth early in my son's military career. Ryan told me of a talk he'd had with his drill instructor during boot camp. The subject was respect. "When I speak," the DI said, "you stand at attention and say 'Yes, sir!' But I've only been tucking you in at night for about six weeks. How do you treat your mother, who's been doing this your whole life? Do you treat her with respect? Do you call her 'Ma'am'?"

I was quick to assure my son that calling me "Ma'am" was completely unnecessary, but a tiny quiet part of my brain began to glow. How long had it been since I had seen or heard public praise of motherhood? As editor of OrganizedHome.Com, I could count on one or two e-mails a week objecting to this site's focus on home life, and complaining "I thought we were past all that!" Yet the Marine Corps acted as if motherhood mattered, as if respect mattered, as if even a "good kid" like my son still had a lot to learn about honor and duty and character.

As the months passed, I saw more and more changes in my child. "I used to have to force myself to do my homework in high school," Ryan told me, "but now, I have self-discipline!" When he completed his military occupational specialty school, the first thing he did was visit me, his mother--before he saw his girlfriend, before he saw his former classmates. During that visit, I could see he was still the boy I knew, but he had also become a man, strong and confident, calm and balanced. He had grown inside far more than he had on the outside.

A few weeks later, I received a beautiful letter from the commandant of his training school. Ryan had graduated first in his class, the commandant wrote, adding that his achievement was "possible only because of the parental foundation you have lain; for this, we render the ultimate salute."

The Marine Corps was thanking me? Holding this letter, the last remnants of resistance to a son in military service crumbled away. The Yuppie parent capitulated and in her place stood a stand-tall, gung-ho Marine Mom.

In the past few days, this Marine Mom has had good reason to think about my child, my home and my country. Our future may soon lie in the hands of hundreds of thousands of young people just like my son, together with the military leaders who have taught and transmitted the values that have so enriched my child.

Corporal Ryan Swain, USMC, is just 20 years old.

But Corporal Ryan Swain, USMC, is a man of honor and courage. A man who is pledged to lay down his life for his home, his country. Together with young men and women from all parts of the United States of America, he is ready to defend us and our way of life.

As his mother, I can't help but think about the possibility that my child could be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

I am not afraid. But I do have something to say.

In the past few days, many have asked that I speak out as editor of OrganizedHome.Com. E-mails urge me to publicize blood drives and fundraisers and memorials. All are worthy efforts, all will make a difference--but none of these pleas have said quite what I want to say.

As a Marine Mom, I would ask, "Will we be worthy?" Will the weeks to come see a flurry of waving flags--but no real changes of heart? Will we dissipate our shock and grief and horror with symbolic acts, or will we use these emotions to fuel new commitment, new idealism, new devotion to the values that have built our nation?

What can we do for our country at this time of trial? Go home and invest ourselves in the lives of our children, our spouses, and our neighbors. Build strong homes and we will build a strong nation. Teach children the virtues of honor and discipline and self-sacrifice. Embrace family, friends and neighbors in a spirit of tolerance and respect, and seek out those who are alone. Be unashamed of standing for the values that my son and his fellow service members have pledged to defend with their lives.

What can we do for our country at this time of trial? Bring a new sense of dedication and service to our homes, schools, churches and communities. Give time and money and talents to make better lives for those around us. If a need is there, meet it. Support charities. Show, by our own sacrifice, that we value the sacrifices which may be asked of our service men and women in the coming months.

What can we do for our country at this time of trial? Prove, by civic participation, that our system of government remains strong and vibrant and relevant to a new century. Vote. Run for office. Speak out on issues. Communicate with our representatives. Fly the flag proudly, and exercise those freedoms of speech and religion that have been hard-bought throughout our history by men and women just like my son.

What can we do for our country at this time of trial? It is not the editor of OrganizedHome.Com who answers, but the mother of a Marine who speaks. We can be that nation to which my son has pledged his life's blood.

He believes. Can we do less?

Menu Planning: Save Time In The Kitchen

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on September 10, 2014

What's for dinner? It's the question of the hour!

Too many home managers look for answers in the supermarket at 5 p.m. Harried from the day's work and harassed by by hungry children, they rack their brains for an answer to the what's-for-dinner dilemma.

Three meals a day. Seven dinners a week. From supermarket to pantry, refrigerator to table, sink to cupboard, the kitchen routine can get old, old, old.

No wonder we hide our heads like ostriches from the plain and simple fact: into each day, one dinner must fall. What's the answer? A menu plan.

Menu planning doesn't have be complicated! Planning meals ahead requires a small investment of time, but can reap great rewards:

  • A menu plan saves money. Reducing trips to the supermarket, a menu plan reduces impulse spending. Using leftovers efficiently cuts food waste, while planned buying in bulk makes it easy to stockpile freezer meals at reduced prices.
  • A menu plan saves time. No dash to the neighbors for a missing ingredient, no frantic searches through the freezer for something, anything to thaw for dinner.
  • A menu plan improves nutrition. Without the daily dash to the supermarket, there's time to prepare side dishes and salads to complement the main dish, increasing the family's consumption of fruits and vegetables. Knowing what to serve each day--and having the ingredients already on hand--cuts back on the drive-through habit.

Follow these tips to put the power of menu and meal planning to work for you:

Dare to Do It

For too many of us, making a menu plan is something we intend to do . . . when we get around to it. Instead of seeing menu planning as an activity that adds to our quality of life, we dread sitting down to decide next Thursday's dinner. "I'll do that next week, when I'm more organized."

Wrong! Menu planning is the first line of defense in the fight to an organized kitchen, not the cherry on the icing on the cake.

Take the vow. "I, [state your name], hereby promise not to visit the supermarket again until I've made a menu plan!"

Start Small and Simple

Still muttering, "But I don't wanna ..."? Break into menu planning easily by starting small and simple.

Think, "next week." Seven little dinners, one trip to the supermarket. Sure, it's fun to think about indexing your recipe collection, entering the data in a database and crunching menus till the year 2015, but resist the urge.

Slow and steady builds menu planning skills and shows the benefits of the exercise. Elaborate hoo-rah becomes just another failed exercise in home management overkill.

Where to start? The food flyers from your local newspaper, or sales circulars from your markets' Web sites. You'll use the ads to get a feel for the week's sales and bargains. They'll be the basis for the week's selection of dinners.

This week in my hometown, two local chain supermarkets are offering whole fryers for the low, low price of 99 cents a pound. Clearly, this is the week for Ginger Chicken and Fajitas, not a time to dream about Beef Stew and Grilled Pork.

Menu Planning Basics

Okay, it's food ad day. Time to rough out a simple menu plan.

The goal is two-fold: shop efficiently to obtain food required for seven dinner meals, while minimizing expenditure, cooking, shopping and cleaning time. Here's the overview of the process:

  • Scan the food ads (newspaper or online) for specials and sales. Rough out a draft menu plan: seven dinner entrees that can be made from weekly specials, side dishes and salads.
  • Wander to pantry and refrigerator to check for any of last week's purchases that are languishing beneath wilting lettuce or hardening tortillas. Check for draft recipe ingredients. Review your shopping list and note needed items.
  • Ready, set, shop--but shop with an open mind. That 99-cent fryer won't look like such a bargain next to a marked-down mega-pack of boneless chicken breasts at $1.29 a pound. Be ready to substitute if you find a great deal.
  • Return from shopping. As you put away groceries, flesh out the menu plan. Match it up with the family's calendar, saving the oven roast for a lazy Sunday afternoon, the quick-fix pizza for soccer night.
  • Post the menu plan on the refrigerator door. Refer to it during the coming week as you prepare meals.
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That's it! The bare bones of menu planning.

You've made a draft plan, shopped from a list, retained flexibility in the marketplace, firmed up your plan and held yourself accountable.

The devil, however, is in the details! Use the pager links below for some points to ponder as you bring menu planning under control.

Build A Personal Shopping List

Planner companies, gift shops and generous desktop publishers all compete to produce cute little shopping lists for all persuasions and occasions. Bear-shaped shopping lists. Long skinny shopping lists. Shopping lists with winsome graphics, kittycats and teddy bears. Awwwwww.

[We even offer some, too, in the printables library .]

Only one problem: why aren't you using them?

Because they don't work, that's why. Teenaged sons play stuff-the-hoop with the empty cereal box and the trash can, but have you ever known one to neatly write "Cheerios" on the list? Blank shopping lists fit about as well as one-size-fits-all clothing.

Solution? Build a pre-printed family shopping list on the computer, listing all the foods and sundries your family consumes. Print 52 copies each year. Post them on the refrigerator. Boys who don't circle "cereal" on the list when they empty the box must eat hot cereal for the rest of the week.

Make your list work for you: organize it by aisle. Next shopping trip, grab a hand-out supermarket map as you leave. Construct your personal shopping list according to the order you shop the store. You'll speed your way out the door in record time!

Coast in the Calm of a Routine

Yes, there are some well-organized souls among us who don't make formal meal plans. Look close, and you'll discover that household meal service dances to a routine.

Sunday's a big dinner, and Tuesday gets the leftovers. Monday is burger night, and Wednesday sees spaghetti, year in and year out. Thursday's the day for a casserole, and Dad grills on Friday. Saturday night, it's take-out or pizza.

Create a routine around your menu planning. Sure, you can try new recipes--just don't let your enthusiasm for the cookbook trick you into doing so more than twice a month.

Find cues in the family schedule to help you plan a routine. At-home days with more free time can handle a fancy meal--or can signal soup, sandwiches and Cook's Night Off. The night you drive the sports team carpool is a great time to plan for pick-up sandwiches. Make the routine yours, and it will serve you well.

Consider Cook's Choice

Build flexibility into your plan and serve the aims of thrift with a weekly Cook's Choice Night.

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Traditionally held the night before grocery shopping, "Cook's Choice" is a menu planning catch-all designed to account for real life.

Use it to tie up loose ends before the next round of menu planning.

You can slide a neglected dinner into Cook's Choice, or chop up the contents of the refrigerator for a clean-out stir-fry.

Either way, you'll feel smug at your frugality and good planning.

Stay Flexible

Menu plans aren't written in stone. So you're dodging cramps on the "big" cooking day? Swap it out with Pizza Night and go to bed early with a cup of herb tea.

With meals planned and ingredients on hand, it's easy to juggle your menu plan when circumstances require. Staying flexible--while being prepared--brings calm to the kitchen!

Make It A Habit

Simple or not, a menu plan won't help you if you don't make one. Weekly menu planning is a good candidate for a new habit: an action on "auto-pilot" that you engage in without thinking. Need to learn how? Check out Habit, the Household Wonder Worker as a guide to building new habits for an organized home.

Get into the habit of planning menus before you shop, and you'll get hooked on the ease and convenience--an addiction of great value!

Recycle Menu Plans

After you've made menu plans for a few weeks, the beauty of the activity shines through: recycle them! Organized by main ingredient--chicken breasts, say, or chuck steak--completed menu plans make it even simpler to plan and shop for a week's meals.

Tuck completed menu plans in a file folder or page protector in your household notebook. Next time fryers are 99 cents a pound at the market, pull out the plan you made this week. Done!

Group Plans by Season

Over time, weekly menu plans will setting into two major groups: menus for warm weather, and fall/winter menus. Try to assemble six to eight plans for each menu "season"; most families do well with that much variety--and no more.

For instance, a great special on ground beef signals grilled hamburgers and burrito bar during warm-weather months; spaghetti or cabbage rolls during the cold season.

Include both variations in your menu stash for re-use next time you spot ground beef at a bargain price--whatever the weather!

Make the Move to Monthly Menu Plans

Once you've flexed your menu planning muscles with a few weekly plans, consider moving from weekly to monthly menu plans. It takes only a few more minutes to add the additional three weeks to your plan; doing so saves time all month long.

Longer-term menu plans are slightly more complex, relying as they do on freezer and pantry. But by reducing trips to the store--and maximizing use of food on hand--they bring superior savings and convenience.

Build Your Pantry Power

Longer-term menu planning brings new emphasis to household food storage areas: refrigerator, freezer and pantry.

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Brush up on your pantry power with our Beginner's Guide to Pantry Pride; keep tabs on stored foodstuffs with free printable pantry inventory and freezer inventory forms.

Maintaining an organized pantry offers many advantages for the menu planner. Keeping stocks of bought-on-sale staples lowers food bills and speeds meal preparation. Unexpected guests are no problem when you can turn to the pantry or freezer for hospitality supplies or a pre-prepared entree.

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Get Ready for Christmas with a Holiday Plan

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 28, 2014

Labor Day weekend ahead! School bells are ringing, football fills the airwaves and September looms. Will the holidays be far behind?

Sure, you're dreaming of the perfect Christmas--then you open your eyes to reality. Looking around the house, it's hard to imagine how to cut the clutter, manage fall cleaning and prepare for Christmas all at once.

How will you bring the current state of domestic chaos into holiday readiness: clean, organized, prepared? You need a holiday plan!

This Sunday, it's time to kick off the House and Holidays Plan and Holiday Grand Plan at sister site Organized Christmas!

Are these plans for you? Unlike the six-week Christmas Countdown, these two holiday plans combine a whole-house deep-clean with holiday preparations.

Working week by week, we'll deep-clean and declutter at home, while we prepare for the holiday season in small, sustainable bites.

Along the way, we'll create a personalized Christmas planner to simplify the holidays--and get together in online communities that provide motivation, inspiration and fun.

The fun starts Sunday, August 31. Ready to prepare house and home for the holiday season? Get the plan!

Ready for Christmas with a Holiday Plan


Make A Price Book For Supermarket Savings

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 27, 2014

Looking to save money at the supermarket? It's hard to do in this age of shifting prices and computer-generated "sales".

How do you know whether an advertised special is a bargain--or a bust? Is the warehouse mega-pack a better buy? How about those "buy one, get one free" offers--are they worth the extra price?

Supermarket pricing can be confusing. Fight back with a powerful weapon from the frugal arsenal: the price book.

A price book is a power tool for tracking prices, products and sales, so you'll always know when a bargain is truly a bargain.

A price book records price variations over time--and between different merchants. For each grocery item you buy, a price book shows you a target price and sets out sales cycles for products you buy regularly.

By knowing that your target price for salad dressing is $1.19, and that the sales cycle is 8 weeks long, you'll be prepared to stock up when prices are low--and rely on the pantry until the next sale, two months later.

How To Make A Price Book

How do you make a price book? First, understand that form is unimportant. Low-tech tightwads use a three-ring binder or spiral notebook to track price book information. Planner aficionados devote a tabbed section to price book pages, while smartphone power users grab dedicated price book apps to track their purchases.

Whatever the form, the heart of the price book is the product page. Each page tracks price information for a single staple product. Down the page, you'll list the date, store, brand, size and price, and unit price for that product. Over time, you'll be able to identify the best regular price, recognize special sales, and track sale cycles for that product.

Here's a sample product page:

Our shopper can buy 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce for a regular supermarket price of 32 cents. Her warehouse store sells bulk cans of tomato sauce for a sharply lower unit price. However, the best buy occurs when the supermarket puts 8-ounce cans on sale at 10 for $1.

Armed with the price book analysis, our shopper has learned to stock up on 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce during supermarket sales.

By continuing to track the price of tomato sauce, she can learn the sale cycle: how often to expect those 10/$1 deals to occur. In her area, that's about every 6 weeks--so she'll purchase enough on sale to cover her family's needs until the next sale.

Setting Up and Using Your Price Book

You're sold on the concept of a price book. You know it will save money, trim time and lighten shopping stress.

Now for the fun! Follow these tips to set up and use your new price book.

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You've found a small notebook or printed our price book template and tucked several copies in a three-ring binder. Next step: gather and record your data.

Itemized grocery store receipts are a price book's best friend. On them, you'll find identified and itemized lists of products you buy and use.

Jumpstart your price book by recording data from every receipt you can find.

For brevity, develop a list of store codes. Use a short abbreviation for each supermarket, discount store and warehouse store you patronize.

Keep a calculator handy for unit price calculations! To find any item's unit price, divide the cost of the item by the number of units. For an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce sold for $.32, enter .32, then divide by 8 to find the unit price of $.04.

If you're making price book entries at the supermarket, you can often find the unit price calculated on the shelf tag.

On The Firing Line

You've scrounged for receipts, entered your data, and now it's time to shop. Like good wine, a price book's value increases with age. At first, you'll be filling in initial entries for many, many product pages--but as time passes, the price book's growth will give you a clear view of the sales cycle.

Build your baby price book each time you shop. See a great special at Supermarket A, but you don't need the product that week? Record it in your price book. You'll know to return next sale cycle, ready to buy.

With a mature price book, item entries slow. Once you've sampled prices at several supermarkets, the discount store and warehouse store, only enter a new price if it is lower than your existing entries.

As your price book matures, be prepared for surprises! Often, the dedicated warehouse store bulk-buyer will discover that she's been paying premium prices for bulk goods. No single traditional supermarket has the "lowest prices" in every area, no matter what their advertising jingles say. Approach the price book exercise with an open mind; you'll find surprising bargains--and high price shocks--in the most amazing places.

Be aware: some price book shoppers have reported episodes of being confronted by supermarket personnel when they make price book entries at the store. A clear and polite explanation ("This is my personal price record; I'm tight-wadding these days. You've got a great deal on white potatoes this week!") should reassure store managers that you're not a snooper-shopper from a competing store. Don't stand for harassment! Any further confrontation should be reported to the chain's higher-ups for action.

Ready, Set, Save!

Over time, you'll build an impressive data bank of local supermarket pricing information. You'll know that name-brand Mexican food products will be offered at the year's lowest prices just before Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May. You'll know when to stock up on steaks, or sodas, or diet foods. You'll understand that canned tuna will be offered at 3/$1 every six weeks--and you'll purchase six weeks' worth of tuna during that buying opportunity.

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You'll also know, at a glance, when to buy in bulk from the warehouse store and when to look for a better deal at the supermarket.

Not all bulk purchases represent true bargains. Armed with a price book, you'll know to a fraction of a penny when to load up on the big bag of flour, and when to pass it up in favor of the supermarket's loss leader of the week.

Most of all, a price book will reveal your target price: a realistic, rock-bottom price goal for each item listed in your book. Whether it's cereal for $1.99 per box or detergent at 9 cents per use, you'll have the information you need to know when a bargain is truly a bargain.

Price books. They give you a leg up on the chaotic, ever-changing supermarket price game. Save time, save money and get organized at the supermarket with a price book!


Tame Morning Madness with a Family Launch Pad

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 26, 2014

Morning Madness! Only the pre-dinner "Arsenic Hour" comes close in the "Calgon, take me away!" category.

Bathroom fights, soggy cereal, and the ever-present, "Mommy! I can't find my . . . !"

Getting the family out the door in the morning can make any parent want to pull the bedclothes up and hide.

One small concept can go a long way to taming the morning beast: the family Launch Pad. Just as a spaceship must have a dedicated structure to support liftoff, so family members need a Launch Pad to stabilize them as they blast out the door.

What is a Launch Pad? It's a dedicated space for each family member:

A single location to contain all the "out-the-door" essentials of life. Setting up a Launch Pad can be as simple as clearing a shelf in a bookcase and designating the area the family's Launch Pad.

For the short stuff, the Launch Pad is home to permission slips, lunch boxes, homework, library books and science fair projects. For the household's "big kids", the Launch Pad holds handbags, car keys, return videos, dry cleaning and the day's ration of Slim-Fast. One place. One special place to corral items every family member must have to leave the house each morning.

Enhance the chaos-calming potential of the Launch Pad by observing these organizing guidelines:

Corral and Contain

"Stuff" should always have discrete limits. So you've cleared the shelf in that bookcase? Add a different-colored plastic dishpan for each family member, and nobody's field trip permission slip will walk to school with the wrong sibling--or slide behind the shelf, to be unearthed during next year's Spring cleaning.

"Putting away" should always be easier than "getting out"

Those colored dishpans are a good example. Child comes home from school, tosses homework and lunch menus in her dishpan. Dad comes home and tosses paycheck, keys, billfold, receipts and pocket change into his dishpan. There things stay, safe and segregated, until they are needed next morning. The easier it is to "put away", the more likely it is that belongings will be put away.

Creative spaces

A Launch Pad need not be a space on shelf or table. One family trains children to the backpack habit. Each child has a backpack. Each backpack lives on the back of its owner's dining chair. Lunches, papers, gym clothes go directly to the chair-mounted backpacks. Result: Launch Pad!

A teacher-recommended solution for younger children combines the Launch Pad with an answer to the "child art" dilemma. Purchase one of the hanging chains with clips designed to be hung from a ceiling to store stuffed animals.

When your preschooler comes home clutching his "papers", artwork will be clipped to the upper regions of the chain, while homework, permission slips and immunization notices live on the lower links. Neat!

Adults can be the biggest contributors to Morning Madness. In our family's pre-Launch Pad days, one could follow the trail of good Dr. Steve throughout the house. In true Hansel and Gretel style, he'd shed a long stream of outer clothing, briefcase, medical journals, junk mail, doctor toys, beeper and pocket change from the front door to his recliner--and each morning saw a frantic search for the tools of his trade. After his Launch Pad became a shelf-top near the coat closet (the divestiture process being named "de-doctoring") he soon learned the ease and convenience of knowing where he'd stashed his essentials of life.

Mom's included, too! A home manager's Launch Pad can contain handbag, car keys, store coupons, return videos and library books.

One advantage to being tall: you'll never again "lose" the car keys to a rampaging toddler if you establish your Launch Pad in a dishpan on a high shelf!

Nothing can truly cure Morning Madness, but establishing family Launch Pads can go a long way toward easing the symptoms.

Make like NASA and set up Launch Pads for your family members--for a smooth morning countdown and an easy liftoff to the work of the day!


Time, Place and Plan: Tips to Help With Homework

Back-to-School Countdown Day 14

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 21, 2014

The start of a new school year brings fresh supplies and new outfits ... and their less-welcome cousin, homework. How will you handle daily homework sessions in your organized home?

To stave off homework battles, it pays to make a plan. Creating a homework routine undercuts foot-dragging, while setting up a homework station keeps distractions to a minimum.

Ready to plan for homework? Try these tips to get it done swiftly, done right during the coming school year.

Rely On Routines

Expect a child to wing it with homework assignments, and you're likely to end up a turkey. Without the structure of a homework routine, procrastination rules the household, leading to nightly conflict. Instead, rely on the power of routine to get the job done on a regular basis.

Add a dedicated time for homework to the household's after-school routines. With an established progression of arrival home, after-school snack and a homework hour, you'll ensure that school-agers complete assignments in good time for enjoying a family evening.

Older children may require more flexibility, as their workload is both heavier and more diverse. Setting aside a no-television/no-media time after dinner will encourage teens to speed their work in order to relax afterward--and will make sure that parents are available if help is needed.

Establish A Homework Center

The old days of pencil-and-paper homework meant that students needed little more than a flat surface and a chair to complete assignments. Not anymore! The rise of technology has changed the face of homework from solitary struggle to multi-media effort. The old solution of "bedroom desk facing the wall" is no longer adequate or sufficient for today's pupils.

Search the household for an appropriate place to set up a homework center. Good lighting and a work area are the starting points, along with access to a computer/tablet and printer. Younger students tend to stay closer to parents as they work, while 'tweens and teens may distance themselves physically--or via headsets or music--so keep children's preferences in mind when you set up a homework center.

Let Your Child Lead

To make homework time more pleasant, go with your child's flow when it comes to getting the work done. A teen flopped on the floor or reclining on a sofa may not look like an adult's idea of a serious student, but as long as the work gets done on time, posture can be a non-issue. Some students find music an asset as they work, while others are distracted by it. Knowing your child's preferences helps craft a homework plan that the whole family can live with.

Plan For Accountability

Finally, give some thought to how you'll monitor homework assignments and track completion in the coming months.

Does your child use a student planner? By middle school, homework assignments are too numerous to be left to memory, so even if the school does not teach planner use, it's time to train your student to record each day's assignments and track their completion in writing.

Work with teachers to ensure good communication between home and school. Knowing assignments and due dates will help you keep children on track and accountable for their work--and arm you against childish foot-dragging.

Most of all, remember to step back and let the child work. Homework can teach responsibility and independence ... so once you cover the basics of when and where and how? Let them learn!


Schoolday Solution: Win the Wardrobe Wars

Back-to-School Countdown Day 13

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 20, 2014

What to wear? For many families, this simple question is a daily flash-point for conflict on school mornings.

A budding fashionista throws a tantrum if a given outfit doesn't meet her standards, while another child insists on wearing one favorite shirt day after day--laundered or not. Younger children resist getting dressed at all, delaying the whole family's departure--and everyone's mood descends to the basement before the day has even begun.

Win the wardrobe wars! Try these ideas to get 'em up, dressed and off to school on time.

Plan Ahead

Wait until each morning to choose the day's clothing, and you've guaranteed a stressful start to the day. Instead, lay out children's outfits the night before--or use Sunday evening to set aside clothing for the coming week.

Group each day's outfit together on the closet rod, or sort a week's worth of folded clothing onto the shelves of a hanging sweater organizer.
Planning ahead ensures that "there's nothing to wear!" meltdowns and frenzied searches of the clothes dryer won't disrupt morning routines.

Harness The Power of Choice

Allowing children to choose turns down the volume in the struggle to get them dressed. Even younger children can choose whether to wear the red shirt or the striped one; school-agers can select each day's clothing from already-assembled outfits. Having a choice gives kids a buy-in to the transaction, and helps prevent power struggles.

Better, harness the power of structured choice. Have a kid who's inordinately fond of a single T-shirt? Ask them to choose which day they'll wear Old Favorite during the week. By pre-assembling outfits, and offering your child a choice between them, you can ensure that your little one is reasonably put together, while wearing items of their own choice.

Impose Consequences

Die-hard non-dressers can delay the whole family's morning routine--and make a parent sound like a skipping CD track, chanting "Go Get Dressed NOW!" at two-minute intervals.

Pull the sting by imposing logical consequences for a child who refuses to dress: when it's time to leave, hand them their clothing and take them to school in their pajamas. While you may want to alert school personnel to your efforts to teach independence and responsibility, peer pressure will solve the problem quickly. Whether the child scrambles into their clothing in the car on the way, or heads straight to the restroom to change, the consequences will teach the lesson: no dawdling!

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If morning clothing fits are a fixture in your home, take a good look at the causes of the conflict. Sure, you'll need to take a stand when a child wants to wear shorts and a tank top on a frosty day, but is it really necessary to go to that level when the disagreement centers on less important matters?

If over-strict sartorial standards are sparking disagreements, consider taking a step back.

Learning to choose clothing, coordinate outfits and develop a personal style are life-skills needed by every child. Invest in their learning curve by staying OUT of their decisions, even when you disagree. A child sporting black shoes with beige chinos may set your teeth on edge--but it's not worth the lost energy of a morning tussle. Let them learn and grow!


Home's Cool! Get Organized for Homeschool


Back-to-School Countdown Day 12

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 19, 2014

In my years as worker, mother and home manager, I have experienced a full range of life’s little organizational challenges.

I have run a business from a home shared with two tiny children and moved cross-country (and back). I've merged two cluttered households into one small city apartment, and lived for many happy years with a card-carrying packrat husband.

Home schooling a child beat them all hands-down, organizationally speaking.

How do I count the clutter? The books. The papers. The biology experiments on the kitchen window.

The adult-sized child sprawled on the floor, reading. The record-keeping. College admissions and testing and letters from the correspondence school.

Homeschool families, like Tolstoy's happy ones, are all alike: drowning in a sea of clutter!

Whatever the organization arena--time, space, money, computer access—-homeschool families have it worse. They have more stuff, less time, more distractions, less money, more chores and less space than just about anybody else.

How do you get organized for homeschool?

Don't despair, homeschoolers! Here at OrganizedHome.Com, we've assembled the best tips, ideas, resources and links to get your new school year off to an organized start.

You don't homeschool? Hang around anyway!

The principles used to organize full-time home schooling families also work for every other family where you find children and learning and love.

Ready? Get organized for homeschool, because home's cool!

Plan to Succeed: Teaching Kids The Planner Habit

Back-to-School Countdown Day 11

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 18, 2014

Teachers, parents and homeschool families know that training kids to the planner habit makes for successful students.

School districts throughout the USA issue planners to pupils and integrate planner use into the school day. Homeschool families use planners to track and organize lessons, chores and activities, while tech-savvy teens rely on smartphone calendar and to-do apps to organize their work.

A student planner is only a tool. How do you teach a child to use one? Try these tips to teach kids the planner habit.

The Right Stuff

Match the planner to the child. The most costly leather-bound business planner won't organize a single day if the kid never cracks the cover! The best student planners are streamlined, colorful, and designed with children in mind.

When selecting a student planner, look for ease of use and durability. Sturdy plastic covers, snap-on page finders and flat-fold spiral binding help young users get comfortable with this time-management tool.

Built-in paper pockets help organize homework, permission slips and school notices. Because children often carry their world in a backpack, consider weight and size when selecting a student planner.

Master The Art

You can't teach what you have yet to learn!

Review the principles of planner use (see Tap the Power of Planners) before teaching your child.

Here are the basics that any planner user must master:

  • Enter all dates, assignments and activities in a single planner
  • Keep your planner with you at all times
  • Check your planner at regular times to orient your day
  • Prioritize tasks and carry them forward if undone
Get The Teacher On The Team

Most teachers are delighted with any method that improves home-school cooperation and student organization.

Tip off your child's teachers that you're teaching new time management skills, and enlist their help as your child learns the ropes of planner use.

They can help reinforce the planner habit in the classroom.

Start Slowly

Tempting as it is to lay down the organizational law and demand whole-child change along with a new student planner, resist the idea. Too often, that "new leaf" will last only as long as an adult enforces it. The minute the adult attention wanes, the child lapses back into relaxed disorganization with a sigh of relief.

Independent planner use is a habit, and like all habits, must be established over time.

Begin with a single planner function: writing down homework each day, or checking a daily chore list. It will take three to four weeks of daily reinforcement to build this habit.

When the first step is a regular part of the child's day, move on to a new facet of planner use.

Establish A Planner Routine

Habits and routines are two sides of the same coin. To establish the habit of planner use, set up a simple routine for you and your child. Sit down with your child each evening to review the coming day, and encourage them to check the planner before beginning the day's homework.

For example, make "check your planner!" the first task of each afternoon homework session. Store student planners in each child's launch pad, whether it's a dishpan on a shelf or a school backpack hung on the back of the child's chair. Finally, hold a final planner-and-homework check each evening before bed. Tuck completed homework into planner pockets for a smooth start to the next day.

As the grown-up, you'll need to enforce the routine integrating planner use for some time. Expect some falling by the wayside, but both parents and children will soon appreciate how much time and stress is saved by a daily routine.

Motivate, Motivate, Motivate

At first, children don't appreciate the benefits of planner use. Because they live in the moment, it's hard for kids see writing down each birthday party, swim club practice and school assignment as more than just another chore. As time goes on, children begin to appreciate the security of having all their homework, chores and activities in one place, but in the short term, it's up to the adults to motivate them.

Use stickers, stars or smiley faces to reward planner entries. Hold family calendar meetings in which every family member (parents, too!) updates his or her personal planner; having a planner just like Mom and Dad makes planner use seem glamorous and grown-up.

Take It Personally

Evaluating children's planners while preparing to write this article, this adult writer found their bright pages busy and distracting.

Not so my child consultants! They loved the graphics, puzzle pages, games and mazes.

"It makes it fun!" said one 7-year-old planner wannabe.

Take a tip from my short-stuff experts, and encourage your child to personalize his or her planner with stickers, drawings and photos. A set of colored pens makes planner entries fun to write and draw, and encourages color-coding for home, school and extra-curricular activities.

The more children make a planner their own, the more they use it!


Hit the Sack: Gear Up for School Lunches

Back-to-School Countdown Day 10

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 15, 2014

Will you add "pack school lunches" to your to-do list when school starts? Time to get organized!

School-day mornings veer to frazzled in a heartbeat, and never more so than when trying to pack lunches while locating laundry, overseeing homework and calling children to breakfast.

Give yourself a break, and take time now to prepare for the school lunch routine. With nine months of lunch duty ahead, planning school lunch menus will make it easy to pack the sacks each day!

Get Informed

Time was, school lunch meant a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a banana ... for everyone. Today, increased awareness of issues like nut allergies and childhood nutrition means that many schools issue guidelines for home-packed lunches.

Before stocking the lunch cupboard for the school year, review school lunch policies. Be in the know before you go shopping!

Find Your Center

Assembling lunches, do you bounce around the kitchen like a ping-pong ball? With sandwich spreads in the refrigerator, bread stored in cabinets, and plastic bags in a drawer near the sink, assembling a simple sack lunch becomes a juggling act ... and you're the ball!

Instead, tap the "activity center" concept, and set up a one-stop center for lunch preparation.

In a cupboard or accessible drawer, store what you need to prepare and package lunches. Sandwich bags and fruit cups. Utensils and plastic wrap. Boxed fruit juice and condiments. If you need it for lunches, give it a home in your lunch center!

In the refrigerator, tuck packs of cold cuts, bagged veggies, string cheese and fruit into a flat-bottomed plastic organizer. Pull it out each morning to make sandwiches and assemble lunches, easily.

Creating a lunch center keeps you glued to one place, with tools and supplies close at hand. Better, you'll know at a glance when you're low on granola bars!

Brainstorm Lunch Ideas

The prettiest bento-inspired lunch presentation may create a splash on Pinterest, but will fall flat if your child refuses to eat it or trades it away for a chocolate bar.

Check in with your children, and brainstorm a list of 10 to 15 kid-approved lunch ideas before school starts. Working together, be sure lunches include fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks so they are nutritionally complete.

After the consult, make a quick list of lunch menus on the free printable School Lunch Planner, and post it near the kitchen lunch center, to guide you on sleepy winter mornings.

And since even the most cafeteria-averse child will still decide to buy school lunch on pizza day, make space near the lunch center to post the school lunch menu. Circle the days your child will buy lunch ... and buy you some extra time!

Weekly Check-In

A quick once-a-week check-in will keep the family on-track for school lunch. Post the week's school lunch menu, and decide which days children will buy their lunch.

Keep tabs on children's changing tastes, modifying lunch menus as needed. If containers of once-loved pasta salad are returning home unopened, it's time to find a new side dish!

Check stocks of lunch staples, and replenish as necessary.

Pre-Pack Where Possible

Whether you prepare a week's worth of lunches over the weekend, or pack them the night before, pre-packing lunches brings new calm to school-day mornings.

Where possible, pre-assemble school lunches to save time each day. Morning minutes are worth ten at any other time of the day!

Outsource Lunch Preparation

Finally, place children in charge of preparing their own lunches. While you'll want to monitor for nutritional completeness and keep the lunch center stocked, giving the responsibility to the child teaches them to plan ahead, and promotes good organization skills.

Add "make lunch" to the family's before-bed routine, and show children how to assemble their lunch for the next day. In the morning, add sandwiches or cold items ... for a lesson in organized living!

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Set Up A Family Command Center

Back-to-School Countdown Day 9

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 14, 2014

Each day in your household, the questions fly. What time is soccer practice? Do we need to buy milk? Is the family free to attend a barbecue this weekend?

Even in an age of smartphones, each household needs a one-stop location to find the answers: a family command center.

Information central for busy families, a family command center cuts school-day stress by creating a single location to find calendars, information and messages needed by the family each day.

Today in the Back-to-School Countdown, we'll set up--or spiff up!--a family command center to keep life running smoothly.

Make it yours

Just as there's no such thing as a "average" family, there's no one right way to set up a family command center. One family may find a single three-ring binder can hold all the information they need to make it to work and school on time each day. For others, the family command center will fill an entire wall with whiteboards, personal inboxes and cubbies.

To determine what your family needs in an information center, consider what information needs to be collected and shared in the household. Your command center components might include items like:

  • family calendar
  • school calendar
  • household chore checklists
  • frequently called phone numbers
  • babysitter/emergency information
  • school lunch menus
  • shopping list
  • coupon files
  • personal inboxes for each family member
  • whiteboard for notes and reminders
  • incoming/outgoing mail
  • bills to pay
  • receipts file
  • storage for pens, pencils, paper, markers and erasers

Looking for ideas? The Printable Library has a great selection of calendars, checklists and information forms for use in a family command center.

Location, location, location

Once you have an idea of what information you'll track and how much space your command center will require, it's time to give it a home.

Where to set up your family command center? Again, it's a choice as individual as your household.

One family will add a command center to the family's launch pad, while others claim the prime real estate of the refrigerator door. Some households prefer a desk-based solution, with file drawers at the ready, while others rely on wall-based messaging using whiteboards and sticky notes.

Wherever you choose, keep in mind that the center won't work if no one can see it! Hidden away behind a door spells instant failure, so choose a spot that's out in plain view and on the family's fast-track each day.

A place for everything ... and everyone

No matter how pretty--or organized!--the family command center may be, it won't work unless you use it. Encourage the household to use the command center by giving each family member a "buy-in": a place of their own for notes and messages.

Mount magnetic paper holders to the refrigerator, labeled with children's names, or create color-coded sections on a whiteboard to give everyone ownership of the information contained there.

Hint: tuck love notes, a small treat, or a "get out of chores free" card into children's message areas to make using the command center more fun!

Build regular checks into your routine

To bring the concept to full usefulness, build "command center checks" into your morning and evening routine.

Knowing that there's a thumbs-down entry on tomorrow's school lunch menu gives you plenty of time to pack a substitute sack lunch the night before. No more morning panic!


Mellow Mornings Solution: Family Launch Pad

Back-to-School Countdown Day 8

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 13, 2014

It's not just our family that exits the door each morning during the school, it's our stuff! Can you find what you need to get the children off to school on time each day?

Briefcases and backpacks, library books and lunch sacks travel with us in and out of the house each day. Arriving home, these possessions scatter to the winds; in the morning, precious time is wasted rounding them up for another day's use.

If you're playing too many games of "Where's the permission slip?", it's time to consider taming the chaos with a family launch pad.

A simple concept, a family launch pad is a dedicated space for daily traveling companions. A bookcase or storage cubby, the launch pad is the place to deposit backpacks, sports equipment, and projects needed for each day of school or work.

By setting aside storage space near the door for each family member, a launch pad creates a home for these migrant possessions.

Today in the Back-to-School Countdown, set up a dedicated launch pad for each family member to start the school year off right. Get 'em out the door on time!

Tame Morning Madness With A Family Launch Pad"


School-Day Routines for an Organized Home

Back-to-School Countdown Day 7

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 12, 2014

Kindergarten teachers know a powerful organizing principle: reliable routines are the secret to a successful school day.

Well-crafted classroom routines give pupils a sense of security--and ensure that the day moves smoothly through each planned activity.

Put that organizing secret to work in your organized home!

Today in the Back-to-School Countdown, it's time to craft morning, after-school and evening routines for the school year.

Try these ideas to create an efficient routine to move the family easily through each school day.

Start with bedtime, and work backward

Every parent knows the importance of sufficient sleep. Cut the shut-eye short, and the result will be cranky children and chaotic mornings.

Now, before school begins, introduce a reasonable school-year bedtime, and transition children onto the new schedule in good time for the first day of school.

Plan ahead for mornings

One minute of preparation at day's end is worth 15 minutes of morning frustration! Thinking ahead to an organized morning, consider adding these items to your children's before-bed routine:

  • Five minute pick-up of family room or living room to return children's belongings to their places
  • Homework / backpack check for items needed the next day
  • Set the table for breakfast
  • Make and refrigerate lunches
  • Lay out clothing for the next day
Get out the door on time

Getting a late start on a school morning can cast a cloud over the rest of the day for everyone. Time to plan a morning routine that will get everyone out the door on time (and smiling!)

As a parent, try to get up a half-hour earlier than the family. Being showered, dressed, and possessed of a few minutes of quiet time before beginning the morning routine gives a big boost of patience and energy.

For the children, consider these items to set a morning routine:

  • Plan a wake-up call with 5 to 15 minutes of leeway. Letting little ones wake up gradually cuts the cranky.
  • Set a breakfast time ... and enforce a dress code. Dressing before breakfast gives more time for the meal and cuts dawdling.
  • Set up a family launch pad to organize "out the door" items, so the family's not delayed by a lost permission slip or missing sports uniform.
  • Account for the unexpected when leaving for school. An extra five minutes can be a sanity saver should traffic or car issues delay the family.
Craft an after-school routine

Finally, consider how the family will return from school. A short routine performed on entering the house can see backpacks returned to the launch pad, snacks and homework review ... before children scatter to their own devices after a long day.


Organize Kids' Rooms for Back-to-School

Back-to-School Countdown Day 6

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 11, 2014

The start of school puts new demands on children's bedrooms. Can the kids find clothing during the morning rush? Where will they do their homework?

To kick off a new school year from an organized home, it's time to declutter, deep-clean and organize children's rooms.

Working with your child, tackle kids' rooms now for school-day success. Remove clutter, organize toys and clothing, and bring a fresh new feeling to your children's private space.

Ready to start? Get inspired to create an organized, supportive space for your little learner:

8 Great Tips to Organize Kids' Rooms


Start Small: Sneak Up On Freezer Cooking

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 10, 2014

You've heard about bulk freezer cooking--an easy method of stockpiling prepared meals in the household freezer.

Commercial meal assembly franchises like Dream Dinners®, or Let’s Dish® have popularized the concept (at a cost), but smart home cooks know that feeding the freezer is an efficient way to feed the family. too.

Whether you know it as once-a-month cooking, freezer assets, OAMC or freezer cooking, the idea sounds intriguing. In a single day, freezer cooking lets you cook and freeze dinner entrees for a month--or more.

But the work! Loaded down with toddlers or balancing a full-time job, you can't imagine devoting two full days a month to shopping, preparing and cooking all those meals.

Take heart! Freezer cooking is not just for the energetic; it's possible to stock your freezer without the marathon sessions. Try these strategies to build your frozen assets bit by bit:

Soup-er Strategies

Soups and stews are simple-but-good dishes for freezer storage--and their forgiving nature makes them a logical first step for beginning freezer cooks.

Try these ideas to build your stock of soup possibilities:

  • Store the components, not the soup. Too often, frozen soups don't satisfy. Overcooked vegetables, gritty stock and stringy meat are a table turn-off. Instead of freezing completed soups, freeze components: a container of chicken broth, freezer bag of just-cooked chicken in single meal portions. To assemble, sauté onions, celery and carrots in a skillet, and add the freezer broth. Stir in leftover cooked rice. Add the meat, heat--and serve a soup that stands the test of time.
  • Just say "No!" to potatoes. Whether in soup, stew or casserole, frozen potatoes don't cut the mustard. Package freezer stew before adding potato. When you reheat, stir in cold, cubed, peeled baked potato from last night's dinner. Freezer friendly potato substitutes include barley and slightly undercooked pasta.
  • Store now, thicken later. Yes, you can freeze thickened stews, but do you want to? Cornstarch and flour-based gravies can separate after freezing, and never seem to have quite the right texture. Better, freeze the meal first and add thickening after thawing.
Magic Multiples

The concept is simple. When you do cook, cook multiple portions and freeze extra servings.


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Problem is, this method is a bit haphazard. Who hasn't known the virtuous feeling of cooking up a big pot of baked beans and tucking a container or two deep in the bowels of Moby Dick, the great white whale?

Where, sad to say, it remains. Months later, a freezer clean-out yields a variegated ice mountain of anonymous dribs and drabs.

Without labels, planning or portion control, the effort goes to waste.

Fine-tune your bulk cooking skills to avoid the hazards of mystery meat:

  • Plan multiple meals. Ground beef and Italian sausage on sale this week? By all means, buy extra for freezer meals--but make it a plan. Two pounds of beef and a pound of sausage will make four meals for your family? Great! That's what you buy, not a smidgen more. Too often, a weak "I'll freeze the extras" motivation leads to overbuying and waste; relying on a plan saves time and money.
  • Package the freezer meals first. Back to our hungry family, faced with a huge kettle of spaghetti sauce. Before you know it, your meat-loving teen has gutted the pot and put a serious dent in those planned-over meals. Instead, fill freezer containers before you serve the evening's meal. You'll have a tighter handle on portion control--and there will be no more scant cups of meatless sauce marooned inside the whale.
  • Freeze casseroles before cooking. Twice-cooked casseroles are nobody's friend. After dinner, who wants to scoop the leavings into freezer bags? Efficient multiple cooks build their lasagna in three single-meal containers and freeze two while the evening's dinner is in the oven.
  • Package properly. Ill-assorted margarine tubs and gaping plastic containers are for amateurs--and they won't protect your frozen assets. Invest in three or four same-sized oven-safe casserole dishes. Is it beef stew tonight? Spritz the dishes with pan spray, and line with a sheet of foil long enough to wrap completely around the food. Spray the foil, too, then ladle in the stew. Gently tuck the foil up over the food. Freeze overnight, then release the foil from the pan. Wrap, label and freeze in freezer bags. To use, pop a foil-wrapped entree into the casserole dish, thaw and re-heat. Simple!
  • Label, label, label! Our efficient once-a-month cook has assembled her labeling supplies before she begins. Casual freezer cooks often fudge the labels. Tuck a slip of paper with the multiple's name and cooking directions between the foil-wrapped entree and the freezer bag. Better, use a permanent marker pen to label freezer bags. A page of computer address labels tucked in the phone directory provides quick labeling help.
  • Track inventory. "Out of sight, out of mind" defeats many would-be freezer cooks--and nothing's better for inventory control than a whiteboard. Add three dinners' worth of macaroni and cheese to your freezer hoard? Write 'em in. Visiting family has you drawing heavily on your inventory? Erase each meal as you use it. A small magnet-mounted whiteboard can be placed on the freezer door to track freezer contents.
Super Six Freezer Plan

You're chafing at the bit, dreaming of making a big dent in nightly cooking chores. Still, you've got neither the time nor the money to invest in a whole month's worth of freezer meals at one time. What do you do?

Try the Super Six Freezer Plan. Once a week, you'll prepare the night's dinner plus six meals for the freezer.

Even eating one prepared meal a week, after six weeks you'll have a fully stocked once-a-month freezer--and missing a week here and there? No problem.

To stockpile meals under the Super Six Freezer Plan:

  • Make a plan. Using the supermarket sale flyers, identify one bargain protein. Are bone-in chicken breasts on sale for 99 cents? Good candidate! How about low-priced chuck roast? There's another. Choose your Super Six candidate according to your family's tastes.
  • Still sitting down with the sale flyers, identify two favorite recipes that can be made from your sale special. Chicken breasts yield Chicken Fajitas and Chicken-Biscuit Casserole. Chuck roast becomes Beef Bourgignon and Pot Roast. Check to make sure that you have other ingredients needed--if not, add them to the grocery list.
  • Schedule a Super Six cooking session. For two recipes, allow an extra hour in the kitchen that evening; three recipes may require more time.
  • Cook assembly-line fashion. For our chicken plan, we'll make 3 Mexican Chicken casseroles and four Fajita meals, one to be served that night.
  • Toss one-third of the bone-in breasts into a large steamer pot. As the meat cooks, bone the remaining breasts. Reserve the skin, bones and scraps.
  • Assemble Fajita marinade, and divide the boned breasts among 3 freezer bags and a glass bowl. Pour one-fourth of the marinade into each bag, and one-fourth into the bowl for the night's meal. Seal, label and freeze the Fajitas.
  • Cool the now-cooked chicken breasts and remove the meat. Mix the casserole sauce ingredients, and grate cheese and chop onions for the casseroles (reserve extra cheese and onions for the night's dinner). Using three foil-lined pans, assemble the casseroles, label, and freeze. Grill the evening's fajitas.
  • Dump the skin, bone and scraps right into the bottom of the steamer pot, add more water, and bring to a gentle simmer for chicken stock. Simmer very slowly for several hours or overnight, strain, and freeze. Your Super Six plan has given you a bonus--free homemade chicken stock!


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Using this concept for a month, you'll build frozen assets quickly--and easily. Adding freezer meals gradually is friendlier to the budget, too!

Total time: 90 minutes. Total freezer investment: six meals. Multiply by six weeks, and you've filled the freezer!

Trade Money for Time

Oh, no! I've scared you! Super Six sounds like too much work, and who's got time to package freezer meals each night at dinner?

Okay, fine. There's a work-free way to have the advantage of meals in the freezer: buy them.

You're going to trade money for time--but it's still faster and cheaper than five nights a week of take-out and/or fast food.

Try these sources for pre-prepared freezer meal candidates.

  • Scour warehouse stores and supermarket freezer sections for freezer meal candidates. Family-size lasagna is made to order, even if you do have to "plan over" the second half of the package for later in the week.
  • Think in terms of building blocks, not complete meals. Pre-cooked frozen meatballs can be tossed into spaghetti sauce from a jar. Cooked shrimp takes simple fried rice from a side dish to a light entree.
  • Try a Ewer family favorite: place meatballs in a medium saucepan, and add water just to cover. Stir in two or three teaspoons of beef soup base, bring to a boil, and simmer gently. Cook rice in a rice steamer as the meatballs simmer. Toss a salad. When the rice is ready, stir a tablespoon of cornstarch into a small amount of water, and add to the meatballs to thicken the sauce. Simple!
  • Other freezer-friendly meal components: bags of pre-cooked frozen shrimp; small bacon-wrapped filets of beef; pre-formed hamburger patties; flash-frozen chicken breasts.

Freezer convenience, home-cooked taste, and more free time? It's a winner! Give freezer cooking a try . . . one way or the other!